The Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems around the world are threatened by multiple processes, particularly ocean acidification and warming as a result of climate change. Reefs are complex life support systems and their degradation has devastating impacts on marine and terrestrial animal populations, including humans.
Conditions imposed by climate change and a strong El Nino triggered two waves of mass coral bleaching starting in late summer of 2016, leading to sharp declines in coral species and habitats. Events like these are precisely why we have been putting all our efforts into establishing and applying the science around coral cryopreservation, as a means of saving genetic diversity which could otherwise be lost forever.
Our team of biologists working with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation have been to five spawning seasons focussing on the cryobanking of keystone coral reef species (i.e. those that are essential to reef structure and function).
The CryoDiversity Bank at Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo stores and cares for a portion of frozen coral cells until they are needed to re-seed the reef. The total number of species now housed in Taronga’s CryoDiversity Bank is 16 and represents the largest coral bank in the world. This living genebank is also providing cells for studies which advance our understanding of coral biology and adaption to oceanic changes.